I last visited E- on Saturday, May 2nd; sadly, we met again at Karnes, the scene of all prior visits. It was, I think, our twelfth meeting, and our first since the IJ’s oral decision back on April 13th. E- was initially crushed by the decision, to the point where she couldn’t bear the thought of enduring another six months in detention to await the outcome of an appeal. Nevertheless, by the end of the following week she somehow found the inner strength to rally for an appeal, which we filed on April 30th.
When an attorney checks in at Karnes to visit a client the routine isn’t at all very different from checking in at a jail or a prison. You sign the required forms, you answer the same tired questions about your G-28, you surrender your backpack and your computer to the TSA-like bag search, you empty your pockets, take off your belt, and – hopefully – you’ve left your wallet and your cell phone in the car. You trade your driver’s license and your bar card for a red visitor’s badge. And now you head down the hall and enter the trap that leads to the family visitation room. That’s where you see your client and her children waiting in their trap until the matron turns the key that allows them to step out of the trap and then pass through their TSA-like electronic detection device.
The four-year-old rushes to greet me and jumps into my arms, his smile as big as they come. He’s as light as a feather, his weight more like that of a child half his age. (I have a soon-to-be 4-year old grandson who feels twice as heavy.) His 10-year-old sister is happy to see me, smiling, yet more subdued. She is curious about my laptop. Just like her mom, she has made a gift for me: a pulsera for my wrist, among the most precious gifts ever. Meanwhile, E- seems momentarily relieved, perhaps clinging to the hope that the pro bono project will not abandon her. (And we won’t.) So she waits, brave yet forlorn, and worried half to death about what will become of her children if the family is forced to return to Guatemala. She thinks of what may await her in the homeland from which she ran for her life almost ten months ago.
In Karnes, E- and her children share a room with another detained mother and her own three children, strangers from a different country. E- reports that her roommate’s 10-year-old boy has been bothering E-‘s 10-year-old daughter. This seems like an issue that would be covered by the Flores settlement on children in detention, and once back in Boston I report it to ICE in writing. The quick response is that ICE will look into the situation immediately; but two days later there has been no substantive response.
Family detention as practiced at Karnes is cruel. The detainees live by a schedule imposed by their keepers. A young mother is joined at the hip to her children all day long, unless the child is attending classes at the “Family Residential Center.” The moms don’t have the liberty to meet their girlfriends at a local coffee shop or to shop for the food that she knows her children will enjoy. They can’t step out and see an occasional movie or get their nails done, can’t register her child for the town’s youth soccer league or buy some frivolous keepsake for her partner on impulse. Impossible to feel the loving embrace of another adult who might actually care for her and accept her for the person she is and hopes to become, someone with whom she can share her dreams while drifting off to sleep at night.
When we argued for bond before the IJ back in March, E-‘s four-year-old son had been detained for 16% of his young life. As time passes, the percentage grows – now over 18%. God forbid, but if this family’s detention stretches to a full year, by mid-July he will have spent 22% of his life behind ICE walls.
Our government is hijacking childhoods in the name of what – sending a message of deterrence to other would-be asylum seekers? Over two months ago, R.I.L.R. v. Jeh Johnson et al thoroughly debunked that rationale. Or did it? Despite the Court’s findings, DHS seems to be willfully tone deaf to Judge Boasberg’s ruling. Meanwhile, birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day – all observed from behind detention walls. Next up on the holiday hit parade will be Memorial Day, and then July 4th. On that day, of all days, how will our government reconcile the illegality and the immorality of family detention while the country celebrates American Independence Day?
Written by Frank Johnson, AILA Member and Volunteer
If you are an AILA member who wants to volunteer at a family detention center, please go to the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project page or feel free to contact Maheen Taqui at firstname.lastname@example.org – we could really use your help.
To watch videos of the volunteers sharing their experiences, go to this playlist on AILA National’s YouTube page. To see all the blog posts about this issue select Family Detention as the category on the right side of this page.